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Our Great Northern Adventure
Le Petit Tour de Peace 300 (Peace Region), May 14
by Gary Baker

I needed to get a 300 for my 2016 BC Super Series, and considering my riding and vacation schedule thoughtout the summer, the only remaining opportunity to do so was to do one of the 300s scheduled for May 14th. Now to fly 9hrs to ride PBP would be considered ‘logical, as would to drive for 3 ½hrs. to do an INT 300, but to drive 13hrs (each way) to ride a 300 would by most folks ( even randonneurs) be considered ‘illogical’. But, can logical be a means of measuring fun? I’ve wanted to do a ride in the Peace River Region for years. This was going to be the year.

From Chilliwack it’s an 1160km drive to Fort Saint John, a long lonely drive, so I was keen to find other riders who might be interested, riders with an adventurous spirit. Several folks were keen, but circumstances (work pressures and a bad crash) forced them to back out. The plan was to drive up on Friday. It was Wednesday morning when the final foursome was set: Barry Chase, Jeff Mudrakoff, Deirdre Arscott and me. I had been in contact with Wim who was excited to have some Lower Mainland riders venture north. Accommodations were confirmed with Wim and Ricky Kok, and at Erik Snucin’s. house. We were promised northern hospitality. Wim said, “Don’t worry about meals, it’s all taken care of.” What an understatement this would prove to be!

Jeff and Deirdre drove out to Cultus Lake (where I call home) Thursday evening. . On their arrival we walked along the beach trail to a (famous) pizza café: Beethoven’s where we ordered their signature vegetarian pizza, the Athenian. It was so good we ordered a second one and took it home.

It was early to bed and early to rise. Barry drove out in the morning (early). We loaded up my Frontier and sorted out the parking arrangements for Barry’s and Jeff’s cars (there are strict visitor parking regulations here). We headed out before our planned 7AM departure time.

It was indeed a long drive. We shared the driving and slept when we could. Wim suggested we drive through Hudson’s Hope and along the Peace River Valley, the section that Site ‘C’ will be flooding. We stopped at one of the lookouts. The landscape was amazing. We arrived in F.S.J. at 8pm to cold beer, wine and a gourmet dinner prepared by Ricky (with Wim’s assistance I trust). Stories were swapped and plans outlined for the next day’s ride. We thought we would be heading west and south to avoid the fires and smoke, but as conditions had improved the route was to take us east and north.

Deirdre and Barry had accommodations with Wim and Ricky; Jeff and I headed over to Erik’s place. How many people have a stuffed grizzly bear, a real one, displayed in their rumpus room? Erik does!

Sunrise comes early in the north, so a 5AM start was the plan. At 4ish Erik, Jeff and I returned to the Koks' for an amazing pre-ride breakfast. At 5AM we were heading north. After a few km, we turned east for a 50km out and back leg to Goodlow, a rural community of sorts near the Alberta border. There was a school, some oil or gas service buildings and a café in a double/triple wide trailer (the extrema control). We were warned there was a ‘bit’ of a hill shortly after we turned east. Indeed there was; we rocketed down a 4km-10% incline to cross the Beaton River. This was a classic river coulee, and of course there was a 10%-4km climb back up to the plateau. The next 45km consisted of very long straight stretches of road separated by short, steep rollers… punishing beasts they were. The café was a welcome sight. Oh, I almost forget. There was smoke, enough to irritate the nostrils and eyes. Weren’t we supposed to go west?

We headed west, back to F.S.J. (out of the smoke, thankfully) with a magnificent descent into the Beaton River coulee and a brutal climb out. Arriving at the Koks’ household control we were treated to a gourmet lunch on the back patio prepared by Ricky . This was like touring with Backroads Tours, only better.

After a leisurely lunch Wim led us out of F.S.J. on paved pedestrian/cycle paths. We were just about to turn north onto the Alaska Hwy when the unforeseen happened. My crank locked up, the rear wheel went into a skid and I lurched forward almost going over the handle bars, what the…….

Oh my, what we saw wasn’t pretty. The chain was twisted every which way and the rear derailleur was completely imbedded within the spokes. This was not good! We had to break the chain to untangle it from around the cassette and from the spokes. Considerable force was required to dislodge the derailleur from between the spokes. The derailleur hanger was bent almost into the cassette. Our efforts to create a single speed to complete the ride proved to be futile. It looked like my ride was over. But not so fast. Although we had meandered several km through the paths to access the Alaska Hwy, we were only about a kilometer from Wim’s (the FSJ control), where I could access another bike. It took an hour to get the bike, swap the seat and pedals before we were once again , as a group, on our way. Thanks for waiting folks.

We proceeded up the high-way for several kilometres then turned onto a secondary road heading north to parts unknown to us southerners. Wim warned us it was ‘rolly’. The words uttered by Barry on the sight of the first ‘roller’ let’s say, were interesting. For the next 85km the road went something like this: short steep climb ( 10%+), 5-10km straight with a hill at the far end, repeat, repeat……

As we rode north we could see the mushroom clouds of two forest fires to the west. Fortunately the smoke wasn’t blowing our way. The turnaround control was at a gas station come grocery store, café, hardware store……right out of the 1950’s at Prespatou. There didn’t appear to be any houses nearby but there was a steady stream of people getting gas, or stocking up on whatever. The vehicles of choice were, of course, pickups and unlicensed ATVs. I have to say northern drivers were incredibly courteous, always giving us a wide berth and not a single, single finger or horn blast.

This is farming, oil and natural gas territory about as foreign as it can get for city types. To add to the mystique, this is also home to a thriving fundamentalist Mennonite community. Several Mennonite women in traditional dress were doing their shopping as we rolled in; five guys and one woman, all in tight lycra. We all looked really out of place out there. One of the older women seemed to have her eyes on Deirdre in wonderment. What could she be thinking….what sort of woman travels with five clearly unrelated men, with such revealing clothes, and on a bicycle?

The return ride back to F.S.J. was uneventful. I was experiencing some minor aches and pains from riding a bicycle set up to fit someone with a very different body than mine, but believe me I was grateful to be on it. The mushroom clouds from the fires to the west had largely dissipated. The firefights had clearly got the upper hand, but now there was smoke bellowing from what appeared to be a new fire to the east.

We arrived back at the final control (The Koks’ abode) to another wonderful feast and cold beer. A good day had been had by all.

The seven of us (Ricky was part of the team) gathered again for an early breakfast. Wim provided us with directions for a short cut between FSJ and Chetwynd; we said our thank yous and good byes and headed south. As for that short cut, it didn’t work out quite as planned. Somehow we missed the road and found ourselves wondering about on gravel roads for a dozen kilometres or so. Oily chains and back road dust equaled the need for a serious cleaning project back home. Eventually we found our way to the main highway and headed for Prince George where we stopped for an excellent Chinese lunch. We arrived back at Cultus Lake 10ish. Barry headed home, Jeff and Deirdre elected to stay the night and drive back in the morning. It had been a long day.

Was driving 2320 kilometers to ride a 300km brevet worth it? For me ABSOLUTELY!. I think the others likely agree.

Oh, this was the largest turnout, ever (6) for a Peace River brevet. We four are now amongst a select few of southern based randonneurs who are officially ‘Rambling Randonneurs” having ridden in all four regional zones. Note: other ‘southerners’ who have earned this pin are Danelle Laidlaw, John Bates, Susan Allen, and Doug Latornell (I hope haven’t missed anyone.).

Wim, Ricky and Erik you were gracious hosts and wonderful companions both on and off the bikes. We cannot thank you enough!

Until next time…..the very best and enjoy that trip to Holland (Note: Wim is going to an event as an International Certified long course speed Skating referee). There is life besides randonneuring….


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May 28, 2016